What does the donkey symbolize in the Bible (Biblical Symbolism and Significance)?

As a born-again Christian, I find great inspiration in the stories and teachings of the Bible, particularly when it comes to how God uses animals to convey powerful spiritual messages. I am also fascinated by the rich symbolism and imagery of animals in the Bible, and the donkey is a particularly intriguing example mentioned severally. Today, I seek to examine this animal mentioned in the Bible as it offers a wealth of insights into the nature of God, humanity, and the world around us. So, what does the donkey symbolize in the Bible?

Donkeys appear throughout both the Old and New Testaments, representing a range of ideas and themes depending on the context used. They are usually associated with humility, peace, suffering, and service (Matthew 21:1-11).

I invite you to join me as I give an in-depth analysis of the donkey in the Bible. I will look at the bible verses about donkeys, the significance of donkeys in the Bible, and the symbolic meanings of donkeys in the Bible. I will also analyze the spiritual meaning of the donkey in the Bible. Keep reading to learn more.

What does the Bible say about donkeys?

The Bible has a lot to say about donkeys as it mentions them numerous times, both in the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, Abraham takes his son Isaac to sacrifice him on a mountain. On the way there, he tells his two servants to wait with the donkey while he and Isaac continue alone (Genesis 22:3).

In Numbers 22:22-30, the prophet Balaam is hired by the Moabite king Balak to curse the Israelites. As he rides his donkey on the way, an angel of the Lord appears to the donkey and causes it to stop. While Balaam did not notice this, he kept beating the donkey until the angel made the donkey speak to Balaam, rebuking him for mistreating it.

In 1 Samuel 9:3, Saul, with his servant, went to look for lost donkeys belonging to Kish, which led to his encounter with the prophet Samuel. Additionally, in 1 Samuel 25:20, Abigail sends gifts to David while he is living in the wilderness with his followers, and they are carried on donkeys.

Furthermore, in Judges 15:15, Samson kills a thousand Philistines, defeating them with the jawbone of a donkey that had died. Moreover, in Judges 5:10, white donkeys are mentioned in the song of Deborah and Barak.

On the other hand, in the New Testament donkey is mentioned during Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. In Matthew 21:1-11, Jesus sends two of his disciples to get him a donkey tied up with a colt and rides it into Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Prophet Zechariah that the promised Messiah would come humbly riding on a donkey.

In the book of Luke 13:10-17, Jesus heals a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years, and he refers to her as a daughter of Abraham who had been bound by Satan. However, the synagogue officials were angry at him for healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus uses a story of a donkey; that he would untie and lead a donkey to water on a Sabbath to compare with the woman.

How does the Bible describe donkeys?

Biblical Symbolism and Significance of donkey
How does the Bible describe donkeys? Image source: Pixabay

The Bible describes donkeys in various ways depending on the context that it has been used. Below are a few of them;

As a stubborn animal: Donkeys are sometimes depicted as stubborn and difficult to control. For example, in the story of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22-24, the donkey refuses to move when it sees the angel In Front of him despite many beatings that Balaam gave it and speaks to Balaam to warn him of danger. This story also portrays the donkey as a patient animal because it was able to endure beatings from Balaam. It is also safe to say that the donkey was a wise animal because it was cautious and observant, trying to warn Balaam of the danger ahead.

As a working animal: Donkeys were also used for agricultural work, such as plowing fields and grinding grain. In Deuteronomy 22:10, a donkey was not to be hitched together with an ox while plowing.

Additionally, it worked as a transporter of goods for its owners (1 Samuel 25:18–20).

How many times are donkeys mentioned in the Bible?

Donkeys are mentioned many times in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New. However, it is difficult to provide an exact count, but I can provide an estimate based on some research. Scholarly articles note that donkeys are mentioned approximately 142 times in the Bible. This includes references to specific donkeys, as well as general mentions of the animal. This number varies depending on how one defines a “mention” of a donkey. For example, some references may only mention donkeys in passing or as part of a larger story, while others may focus more specifically on their role or symbolism.

Bible verses about donkeys

The following are bible verses that mention the donkey as used in the Bible:

Genesis 22:3

This verse is a larger part of the story where God had instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son. In this verse, Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, took two of his young men with him and Isaac, his son, and went to the place God had told him.

Numbers 22:28:

This verse illustrates how the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey belonging to Balaam, and it talked to him, asking what it had done to him that he struck it three times.

1 Samuel 25:20:

The verse explains how Abigail was approaching David and his troops while riding her donkey down by a secret area of the mountain and calling out to them.

Zechariah 9:9:

This verse illustrates how Prophet Zechariah prophesied about the coming of Jesus as King riding on a donkey.

Matthew 21:1-11,

This verse talks about how Jesus sends two of his disciples to get him a donkey tied up with a colt which he uses to ride into Jerusalem.

Genesis 34:28.

This verse illustrates how Jacob’s sons went and took the flocks, donkeys, cattle, and everything of value as revenge for their sister Dinah’s raping.

Exodus 23:12

This verse mentions donkeys as one of the animals meant to rest on the seventh day as instructed by God to the Israelites.

Psalms 104:10-11

This passage mentions wild donkeys quenching their thirst from water in springs flowing through valleys in praise of the Creator.

Judges 15:15,

This verse illustrates how Samson killed a thousand Philistines defeating them with a fresh jawbone of a donkey.

What is the significance of donkeys in the Bible?

What does the donkey symbolize in the Bible (Biblical Symbolism and Significance)?
What is the significance of donkeys in the Bible? Image source: Pixabay

Donkeys played an important role in the Bible. Here are some examples of the significance of donkeys in the Bible:

Used for transportation

Donkeys were commonly used for transportation in biblical times, especially for carrying heavy loads and traveling long distances. For Example, In Genesis 22:3, we are told that Abraham rose early in the morning and loaded his donkey, and took two of his servants, and Isaac, his son, to the place which God had told him for the sacrifice.

In Exodus 4:20, Moses took his wife and his sons and set them on a donkey, and he returned to the land of Egypt as instructed by God because all his enemies had died. Furthermore, in Judges 10:3-4, Jair came from Gilead and led Israel for 22 years. He had 30 sons, and they each rode a donkey.

In the book of 1 Samuel 25:18-20, Abigail sends gifts to David while he is living in the wilderness with his followers, and the gifts are carried on donkeys. Lastly, Jesus rode on a donkey on his triumphant entry to Jerusalem (Matthew 21:2-3).

Donkeys were given as gifts

In Genesis 32:5, Jacob sent oxen, donkeys, and male and female servants to his brother Esau. Similarly, in Genesis 12:16, when Abram (later named Abraham) went to Egypt with his wife Sarai (later named Sarah), Pharaoh gave him sheep, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels as gifts.

Used for agricultural purposes

Donkeys were used in agriculture for plowing, grinding grain, and carrying water. In Deuteronomy 22:10, it is written that farmers should not plow with an ox and a donkey together, as they have different strengths and may not work well together.

In Judges 6:11, when the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he was threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. He was using a threshing floor, which was a hard surface on which to beat the grain with a flail or stick to separate the edible part from the husk. However though the Bible does not specifically mention that Gideon used a donkey to carry the grain, it is likely that he did, as donkeys were commonly used to carry heavy loads.

Used to demonstrate God’s power

The story of Balaam’s talking donkey is interpreted by scholars as a metaphor to represent the power of God to use even the most unlikely and humble creatures to accomplish his purposes (Numbers 22:28).

Used as a symbol

The donkey has been used as a significant symbol in the Bible to demonstrate humility, peace, suffering, and service, as mentioned earlier (Matthew 21:1-11).

What do donkeys symbolize in the Bible?

What the donkey symbolize in the Bible
What do donkeys symbolize in the Bible? Image source: Pixabay

Donkeys were strong and reliable animals in the Bible and portrayed various symbols. The symbols include

Symbol of humility and service: In Matthew 21:5, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling a prophecy from Zechariah 9:9. The image of Jesus on a donkey is meant to convey that he is humble and willing to serve, rather than using a horse or other regal animal.

Symbol of wealth: in the story of Job, Job is described as a wealthy man who owned “seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yokes of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and very many servants (Job 1:3). The fact that Job owned female donkeys, which were used for breeding and milk production, suggests that he was prosperous and had the resources to maintain a large herd.

Additionally, in the book of Judges, Abdon, the son of Hillel, is described as a judge who had forty sons and thirty grandsons who rode on seventy donkeys (Judges 12:14). This image of a large family riding on donkeys suggests wealth and status, as it would have been expensive to maintain such a large herd of animals.

Symbol of peace: Prophet Zechariah prophesied that a king who would bring peace to the nations is coming riding a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). Additionally, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. By invoking this image, Jesus is presenting himself as a peaceful and just king, in contrast to the Roman rulers who rode war horses and used military force to maintain their power.

Symbol of Work and Labor: Donkeys were commonly used in agricultural societies for transportation, farming, and other labor-intensive tasks. In Exodus 20:10, the commandment to observe the Sabbath includes a command to give rest to the ox and the donkeys. This shows that donkeys, like other domesticated animals, were expected to work hard and were entitled to rest and care on that day.

Symbol of redemption: In Exodus 13:13, the firstborn of a donkey was to be redeemed with a lamb, highlighting the theme of redemption that runs throughout the Bible. This practice foreshadows the ultimate redemption that would be accomplished through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who saves mankind by taking away the sins of the world.

Symbol of suffering and endurance: In the story of Balaam’s talking donkey in the book of Numbers 22:22-30, Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet, is hired by the king of Moab to curse the Israelites. However, on his way to meet with the king, Balaam’s donkey refuses to move and speaks to him, revealing the presence of an angel blocking their path. Before this, Balaam beats it mercilessly severally, but the donkey endures all this. Additionally, the image of the donkey carrying the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem could be a powerful symbol of the humble and lowly circumstances of Christ’s birth, which foreshadows the suffering and sacrifice that he would later endure on the cross (Luke 2:1-7).

Why Did Christ Ride a Donkey on His Triumphant Entry?

According to Matthew 21:1-11, Jesus sends two of his disciples to get him a donkey tied up with a colt and rides it into Jerusalem. Some of the reasons associated with this act include the following;

Fulfillment of Prophecy: One of the main reasons why Christ may have ridden a donkey into Jerusalem is to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy. In the book of Zechariah, it is prophesied that the Messiah will come “lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). By riding a donkey into Jerusalem, Christ was intentionally fulfilling this prophecy and signaling to his followers that he was the long-awaited Messiah.

Secondly, by choosing to ride a donkey rather than a horse or a chariot, Christ was intentionally communicating a message of humility. He was showing that he was not a political or military leader but a spiritual one who came to bring peace and salvation to his people. This is demonstrated in (Matthew 21:9) as the crowd shouted that blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord he passed beside them. This response showed that many people recognized Christ as a messianic figure who had come to bring salvation to Israel.

Nevertheless, by riding a donkey, Jesus Christ was demonstrating his solidarity with the common people and showing that he came to serve and save all people, regardless of their social status. In the first century, being a Jew under Roman rule was not an easy life, especially for the poor. But during his time on earth, Jesus showed compassion for the underprivileged and sick. God intended for him to arrive as a king who would serve and rescue the oppressed by having him ride a donkey rather than a horse.

What is the spiritual meaning of donkeys in the Bible?

The meaning of the donkey varies greatly depending on the cultural and religious context in which it is used. The donkey is mostly associated with Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This act means that a donkey is used to demonstrate humility and service.

In Judaism, the donkey is used to show peace and redemption. Prophet Zechariah speaks of a time when the Messiah will come riding on a donkey, a symbol of peace, rather than a warhorse, which symbolizes aggression and conquest.

Leave a Comment